Saturday, February 14, 2009

Being different, being true

I have spent the last hour reading the blog of a teenage unschooler in Canada, and it's been really great in terms of reconfirming that it really is possible to raise a thoughtful, intelligent, creative and passionate person outside of the school system. Of course my deep inner belief is that it is easier to do this outside the school system, but sometimes it's hard to stay sitting close to your inner truths when they are so rarely shared by those around you. Sometimes the loneliness of seeing the world so differently to those around you can really get to you, and you can start to doubt yourself.

And being a mum, and loving your daughter beyond the ends of the universe, you want to do what's best, that old cliche. There's so much at stake. My child's whole life, her whole future.

And the reactions you get when you talk about homeschooling, or unschooling, can act like waves on a rock, you can feel yourself slowly eroding sometimes, being worn down. People just hold the idea of school so closely, they don't even realise they are holding something, you know? Most people have never, ever, for a second, thought about school as a human construct. They act as though it is as natural for human children to go to school as it is for a butterfly to emerge from a cocoon. But it's not. We invented it. It is possible to not go. This doesn't even occur to people!

So what is my problem with schooling? Many kids love school. I personally had a mixed bag of experiences at school. In many ways I was enriched and exposed to things I never would have been at home. Socially, I had my best and worst experiences at school. Academically I excelled, and gained a lot of pride from being top of the class.

OK, so my issues with school come from a few angles. Firstly, there is the system of heirarchy which forces students to submit to the higher will of the teachers and principals, and basically the way I see it, is in place to train them to be good little worker bees and fit nicely into the capitalist society we live in. After all, if we weren't scared of the principal we wouldn't be scared of the boss, and we might not be as happy to accept our humble place in a world that is out of our control.

Not only are they trained to accept the rule of authority, preferably without question, but they are taken away from themselves, which I suppose is a necessary step in creating an obedient person. Kids are coerced into doing things they don't want to do, at times when they don't want to do them. Yes of course we all have to do things that we wouldn't choose, but I think life throws these things at you anyway, there are plenty of things that we must begrudgingly accept, there is no need to institutionalise it and immerse oneself in a five-day-a-week grind of it. There is little respect for the child/teen and their passions and interests and their in-the-moment feelings. See, to me, that's not on. It's not the way I want to live my life, and therefore it's not the way I want my child to live hers. I want her to feel respected. To feel that if something is important to her, then it is actually important. To feel that if she has a strong feeling about something, that she can truly honour it, and indeed that it is important that she honour it. It has taken me years to learn to listen to my inner voice and then even longer to give myself permission to honour what I hear. I want Indigo to be able to grow up doing these things, because I believe, really believe, that doing these things leads you to happiness and fulfillment.

Also, I don't want her to have to effectively have a full time job. Five days a week, six hours a day, plus homework. It actually seems insane to me. Really nuts. These are children! They should be out playing, climbing trees, digging holes, reading under doonas, staring into space in dreamy wonder, getting obsessed with things and then abandoning them, whatever! And not to mention, spending time with the people they love, and who love them!! It seems crazy to me that the accepted model of how a normal family functions in our society is for the children to be in school five days a week, the parents to be at work five days a week, then for the whole family to quickly rush in dinner, bath, a bit of play perhaps and then bed, all into a few hours at the end of the day when everyone is tired and bleh. Then get two days off to do all the stuff that needs doing. I wholeheartedly reject this model for my life. Completely and utterly. I don't know who decided this was a good way to live, but it doesn't suit me. I like to take my time with things, linger in nice places, and leave space and time for creativity and connection. To allow for last minute decisions to do this or go there. I like to leave room and time and energy to spend growing intimate relationships, and gardens, and ideas. I worked full time for seven months many years ago and hated six and a half of them. I worked part time ever since, and made a conscious choice to do with less money to live the life I wanted.

Then there is the social side of things. About 98% of people, upon first being told of our plans to homeschool, mention socialisation. "But how will she make friends?" Well, my response to this is twofold. Firstly, I make friends and I'm not in school. There are ways to make friends and develop networks outside of school. There are other activities she could engage in, sports, art clubs, homeschooling groups (of which there are many, and who go on camps and have regular excursions etc), via the internet, and many more. With a bit of effort this should not be a problem at all. And secondly, to be honest, the peer influence and pressure that most kids get from school is less than desirable. There is so much bitchyness, so much pressure to fit in and be cool. So much cruelty. In some ways it's very much like a small town mentality. Everyone knows each other, and gossips, and there is a way of being, a social flavour which you must adhere to or be ostracised. Again, the social side of schools seems really unnatural to me. Hundreds of kids all squashed together and kept within the confines of a fence. Kept in line by a few adults with too much power over them. Kinda like a prison.

Also, I've lost count of the number of parents I've spoken to who seem a little sad, a little melancholy, about the way they kinda lost their little ones when school started. So many external influences, so much time away from home. They started doing things and speaking in ways that were really foreign. And to me, five is just way too young for that to start to happen.

Then there is the system of school grading, where my child would be judged according to someone else's schedule, someone elses idea of what is good, what is important, what is necessary or useful. I want Indigo to be her own judge. To really deep down know that her own beliefs about herself are ultimately more important than any assessment she may receive externally. Yeah I got great marks in school, and it made me feel great everytime I saw an A, or A+, or 100%, whatever. Especially that 100%. Only attainable in the maths and sciences of course (and perhaps the reason I felt so comfortable with those subjects). It was as though each time I saw 100% written in red on my work, that little handwritten number assured me I was OK. That all was well. As though it were a reflection of my worth as a person. 98% was OK, but not perfect. And then later in university, when things went not only pear shaped (although I like the shape of pears), I would say banana shaped, and my marks went out the window, so did my self esteem, and now, over a decade later, I am still putting the pieces of myself together again. And yes it is not impossible for a child to have a whole, healthy view of themselves and still go to school. I just think school makes it so much harder. In so many ways.

Ultimately, if Indigo wants to study at school full time, and then later on work full time, that's completely up to her. But while she is young, while I am her parent and entrusted with creating the pond she swims in, that shapes her, it is important, it is imperative, for me to honour my own feelings and give her the life I think is best. It's important I be true to myself as a parent. I'll always respect and honour her, and who knows where our path will lead, but from here, for now, I think we'll be staying away from schools.